Comic Book Fix: After ‘Before Watchmen’
Last Updated on Wednesday, 6 June 2012 01:14 Written by david golbitz Wednesday, 6 June 2012 11:00
If no one cares what happened before Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel that, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, changed the face of superhero comics 25 years ago, will DC still call it a success? The Internet seems to be evenly split into three camps: a) those who can’t wait for ‘Before Watchmen’; b) those who hate the very idea of anything Watchmen-related that doesn’t involve Alan Moore; and c) complete and utter ambivalence. Which category do you fall into?
Check out where I stand after the break, as DC’s ‘Before Watchmen’ event gets underway, and be sure to read my reviews of the great new thrillers from Image and Dark Horse: Dancer and MIND MGMT.
I find myself vacillating between Groups B and C. I abhor DC’s attitude toward the creator of some of its most enduring, best-selling comics. DC lied to Alan Moore, reneged on their deal, and is now pissing on the book he’s most well known for. On the other hand, it takes a lot of energy to be angry, and to remain angry, at a vast corporate entity that has no conscience or feelings, that isn’t a person, regardless of what the ‘Citizens United’ decision would have you believe. Companies generally don’t care if you’re talking good or ill about them, as long as you’re talking about them, which makes me think Group C is the better choice.
There are so many great creator-owned comics being published these days, I think a better use of that energy is to channel it into something productive, like promoting really great comics that care more about art and story than about making money for a huge multinational company. (Check out my reviews below for a couple examples.)
Now, some Alan Moore loyalists on the comic book message boards are taking out their anger on the creators DC enlisted for these ‘Before Watchmen’ titles, but I can’t quite bring myself to condemn the fantastic writers and artists behind the project. Maybe I should, but I can’t. I enjoy their work too much, whether it’s Darwyn Cooke’s ‘Parker’ graphic novels from IDW or Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets and, I’m surprised to say it, his Wonder Woman. I’ll continue to support these creators in their other work. I can rationalize doing that. But I simply can’t justify giving DC money for a project that, ethically and morally, shouldn’t exist in the first place.
What are your thoughts on ‘Before Watchmen’? Leave your comments at the bottom of the page, after you read my reviews of two exciting new books, the action/spy thriller Dancer, by Nathan Edmondson and Nic Klein, and the Lost-esque mystery series, MIND MGMT, by Matt Kindt.
Dancer #1 (Image), by Nathan Edmondson and Nic Klein
I’m a sucker for a good spy thriller. Always have been, going back to my first exposure to Secret Agent 007. Of course, James Bond wasn’t the most realistic depiction of the lives spies led, but it was exciting when I was a kid. And then it was exciting on a whole new level when I got old enough to understand all the double entendres that were sprinkled liberally throughout each movie.
But it wasn’t until I discovered more realistic spy vs. spy stories that I really became attached to the genre. Robert Ludlum’s original Bourne books, and the international intrigue of a good John le Carre novel. Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country was probably the first espionage comic book I read, though, that really sucked you into the life of a spy. The real life, not all the fancy gadgets and gorgeous women that dotted James Bond’s stories, but the dirt and blood and emotion of the real deal. And to this day, Q&C continues to be the gold standard against which I hold any spy story I come across. Admittedly, that’s a high bar, so I try to grade on a curve. And every so often a comic comes around that earns high marks all on its own. Dancer, written by Nathan Edmondson with art by Nic Klein, and published by Image Comics, is just such a book.
The story opens off the coast of Brazil, as a guest aboard a cruise ship is murdered while eating dinner. The killer is on a sailboat, across the bay, with a long-range sniper rifle. His job accomplished, he breaks down the gun, throws it overboard and makes his escape before anyone aboard the cruise ship even knows what happened.
Cut to Italy. A young redhead, a ballerina, is practicing for a performance. Her boyfriend, an older man with a streak of gray in his hair, sits in the theater, watching her, admiring her. Before long, the man, Alan Fisher, and Quinn, the young dancer, are on the run. Shots ring out, blood is spilled, and the man is confessing some of his many sins to the woman he loves: Alan is an assassin. Obviously. U.S. military, then CIA. He doesn’t know who’s after him, or why, but he’s determined to find out.
Okay, the plot is a little cliche, but the execution is top notch and the cliffhanger at the end of the first issue has me hooked. Crisp, sharp writing and moody, noirish artwork that evokes the best paranoid thrillers of the ’70s make Dancer stand out. Edmondson’s characters feel lived in, weighted down by pasts best forgotten, and Klein’s artwork is detailed enough that the world feels real, the stakes high. This is life and death, cat and mouse played at the highest level, and produced at a high level, as well.
If you’re a fan of taut action and visceral drama, Dancer should definitely find its way into your pull file.
MIND MGMT #1 (Dark Horse), by Matt Kindt
There appears to be something of a theme in this week’s reviews. While Dancer is a relatively by-the-books spy thriller, Matt Kindt’s first monthly comic, MIND MGMT, is more of a mystery thriller, not unlike Lost. The answers to Dancer‘s questions are concrete, but Kindt is striving for something more abstract.
MIND MGMT opens with a good deal of violence. A man and a woman struggle atop a building before both plummet to the ground; someone throws a Molotov cocktail through the window of a bookstore; a man shoots another man in the head, only to have his throat slit by a woman. It’s all very surreal, almost dreamlike. Who are these people? Why are they murdering one another?
Cut to two years ago. Flight 815. Presumably the plane took off with no problems, but something happened midflight, something that caused every passenger and crew member to contract amnesia all at the same time. The plane lands safely, thanks to quick thinking by the man who doesn’t remember that he’s a pilot, but 120 families are devastated: children don’t remember their parents, husbands don’t remember wives. Entire lives are wiped out in an instant, with no clue as to how it happened, or why.
The story picks back up two years later on the anniversary of the day amnesia struck Flight 815. We’re with Meru, a writer, or she was a writer, before she forgot everything about her life. She’s apparently burned through whatever savings she might have had from her first book, a bestseller. She’s been trying to write a book about the flight, about what happened to the passengers and crew, but she’s at a dead end. No leads. No one remembers anything. The only clue Meru has is the passenger manifest, which states that 121 people were aboard Flight 815, but one, a passenger named “Henry Lyme,” disappeared somewhere between takeoff and landing.
“Henry Lyme” is almost certainly a reference to “Harry Lime,” the black marketeer played by Orson Welles in the 1949 noir classic, The Third Man. In fact, in a welcome note at the end of the issue, Matt Kindt promises various “hidden things” in each issue of MIND MGMT, so not only is this a great comic, it’s also something of a scavenger hunt.
Anyway, back the the story. Meru follows up on “Henry Lyme” and it leads her to a small town in Mexico, where the population starved to death due to a bizarre epidemic which caused all the adults to do nothing but create pots. They wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t do anything except make these pots, which Meru connects somehow to the amnesia that struck Flight 815.
Meanwhile, Meru is being followed by mysterious men for reasons unknown. And when one of these men is accosted in a Mexican bathroom, his partner makes contact with Meru, convinces her to run with him, that she’s not safe. And, like in Dancer, the chase is on.
Kindt made a name for himself with a series of original graphic novels and short stories that appeared in various anthologies from Image, Top Shelf and DC. His artwork has a loose, sketchy quality that lends itself well to the ethereal, dreamlike aspect of MIND MGMT. The narration is stark, bare bones, and precise, reminiscent of the best noir writers of the 1940s and 1950s, while the characters come alive through realistic dialogue and distinctly expressive faces.
I have a feeling MIND MGMT will be one of the sleeper hits of the year, it’s that good, so get on board early with the first issue before you can’t find any copies.
Top Picks of the Week
- Animal Man #10 (DC), by Jeff Lemire and Steve Pugh
- Dial H #2 (DC), by China Mieville and Mateus Santolouco
- Harbinger #1 (Valiant), by Joshua Dysart and Khari Evans
- Secret #2 (Image), by Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim
- Thief of Thieves #5 (Image), by Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer and Shawn Martinbrough
- X-O Manowar #2 (Valiant), by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord
- What Comes After BEFORE WATCHMEN? (newsarama.com)
- Before Watchmen is ‘a love letter’ to Moore’s creation, Dan DiDio says (robot6.comicbookresources.com)
- Quote of the day #2 | Alan Moore on fans who buy Before Watchmen (robot6.comicbookresources.com)